PRC's Privacy Update No. 4, Iss. 4

In this issue . . .

[1] Our New Online Guide: Revised, Revamped, and Required Reading for Internet Users

Privacy Tip: Your Cell Phone Can Continue Talking Even After You Get Rid of It

[3] Alert: Keep Your Internet Searches Private

[4] Warning: Zabasearch E-mail Is Misleading


[1] Our New Online Guide: Revised, Revamped, and Required Reading for Internet Users

The Internet has become the phone book, the dictionary, the postal service … in short, a necessity of daily life. Our newly revised online guide addresses the Internet’s sweeping presence in our lives.

Fact Sheet 18 now tackles everything from blogs to Nigerian letters, giving you the who, what, where and most importantly, privacy pointers to guide you in your cyberspace travels. It takes you on a tour of cyberspace, educating you on how you can protect yourself at each stop.

Part One explores the ways in which you give information to other people on the Internet, including signing up for Internet service, using e-mail, browsing the Internet, using social networks and instant messages, maintaining personal Web sites and blogs, and using online banking services. 

Part Two looks at how this information can be obtained by others, including marketers, employers, government officials, law enforcement, and criminals. 

Part Three offers tips for protecting your privacy.  Part Four provides additional resources. 

This comprehensive guide aims to give you peace of mind when using the Internet.  In the physical world you are aware when you are buying something from a street bazaar as opposed to a shopping mall and can make decisions accordingly.  In the online world it can feel like you have blinders on making it difficult to tell the phony from the legitimate.  After reading our guide you should be able to travel in cyberspace with your eyes wide open. 

To read the full fact sheet, visit .

[2] Privacy Tip: Your Cell Phone Can Continue Talking Even After You Get Rid of It

It may not seem like common sense to clean your trash before you throw it away, but with technology that is exactly what you should do.  Before you sell, donate or discard your cell phone, make sure that your personal information has been permanently deleted.

According to Trust Digital, a mobile security software company, many phone manufacturers use “flash” memory chips to store information.  These chips are similar to those used in digital cameras and some music players.

Manufactures welcome this type of memory chip because it is inexpensive and durable.  However, it takes longer to permanently erase information. 

Owners of expensive phones, such as Blackberries, Treos and other PDAs, are more likely to try and resell or give away their old models.   Unfortunately, these phones tend to contain sensitive personal data, including client contact information, e-mails, spreadsheets and other files.  

The PRC recommends:

  • Follow the steps listed in your phone manual for “safely deleting” or “permanently deleting.”  The instructions often involve complicated or repetitious key strokes.  If you are not confident that the instructions offer the type of security you are looking for, call your phone company and ask about the proper data deletion procedures.
  • Consider not storing sensitive information on your phone.  Most people do not own cell phones for longer than a few years, which may mean it is not the ideal place to keep passwords, account numbers, and other valuable information.
  • If your personal or work phone contains job-related files or sensitive corporate information, check with your employer about data deletion procedures.

To read the full alert, visit:

[3] Alert: Keep your Internet Searches Private

Internet users were shocked to learn that the search queries of over 600,000 individuals were exposed online by AOL recently. Although the personal names of AOL users had been replaced with numbers, apparently for a research project, reporters and others were able to determine the identities of several people. Search terms revealed medical conditions, illegal activities, illicit interests, financial information, even Social Security numbers.

The retention of search logs is a common practice of search engine companies, not only AOL, but also the other major services such as Google, MSN, Ask, and Yahoo. But a little-known search engine has made a name for itself by bucking the trend.

Ixquick, a search engine based in the Netherlands, promises it will permanently delete all users’ personal search details from its log files. With this privacy policy, established in June 2006, Ixquick stands heads taller than its peers.

To date, the other search engines store users’ search details for at least some time. Google, which is preferred by just under half of all users, stores search data indefinitely. Other popular search engines, including MSN, Ask, and Yahoo also have policies indicating that they store user data for an undefined period of time.

Ixquick will delete a user’s IP address and has designed a cookie that will not identify an individual user. It says it deletes all personal information within 48 hours.

Switching to Ixquick does not mean you have to give up the other search engines. Ixquick is a metasearch engine, which means that it returns the top-ten results from multiple other search engines. It uses a star system to rank its results -- by awarding one star for every result that has been returned from another search engine. Thereby, the top search results are the ones that have been returned from the maximum number of search engines.

To read the full alert, visit:

[4] Warning: Zabasearch E-mail is Misleading

An e-mail message warns of a “new” database being available to the general public free of charge that displays your personal
information (name, address, phone number, birth date). This message has been circulating through the Internet for several years. It contains some accurate and some inaccurate information.

The database that this e-mail message is warning about is Zabasearch. It is not a new database; it has been in existence for years, as have many dozens of other similar sites. Our Web site includes a fact sheet about public records that explains how and why all these companies can (and do) access your information.

The e-mail message tells recipients that they can receive information about removing their name by sending Zabasearch an e-mail at However, even if you follow their instructions and request removal from their data files, they will continue to regularly refresh their data. Your contact information will likely reappear when they purchase the next batch of public records (i.e., property ownership documents, court records, marriage license, divorce decree, bankruptcy filing, and in some states voter registration).

If you want to opt-out of these databases, please review our entire listing of some of the largest on-line information resellers and then contact each of them individually to attempt to opt-out (request name removal) from those that permit it. Following is a direct link to this listing of information brokers on our Web site:  This guide will be revamped and updated in the coming months.

Reader Beware!  If you do choose to opt-out, please think carefully before you give the databases any additional personal information as part of the opt-out process. Read our above-mentioned guide before taking the step to actually opt-out.  

Be sure to contact your elected officials and the Federal Trade Commission to complain that your personal information is available online and that you often have no power to delete, correct, or control it. Here is a link to the FTC website: and click on the "complaint" box at the top of the page. Also, if a company posts a privacy policy stating that they will remove your information upon request and then fails to do so, we encourage you to file a complaint against them both with the FTC and the Better Business Bureau (you can do so using their on-line complaint form available at


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The PRC is a non-profit consumer information and advocacy organization, based in San Diego, CA.

To contact PRC staff:

Beth Givens, Director

Tena Friery, Research Director

Patricia, Consumer Advocate

Paul, Consumer Advocate

Leslie Flint, Legal Research Associate
and newsletter editor

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